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Posts Tagged ‘ethnic studies’

June 26, Rethinking Schools editor Wayne Au spoke at a Seattle rally protesting the role of the Gates Foundation in public education: “Educating the Gates Foundation.” The rally was sponsored by Washington BATS (Bad-Ass Teachers) and Washington Save Our Schools. This is the speech he delivered at the rally. 

Educating the Gates Foundation Rally Remarks

by Wayne AuWayne Au

Good evening. I’m here tonight because I am deeply concerned. I’m concerned that public education is rapidly becoming privatized. I’m concerned that we are all part of a grand experiment, one that is hurting kids and communities. I’m concerned that we are losing democratic, public accountability in public education. I’m concerned with the state of public education reform and the role of Bill Gates and his foundation.

 

You see, right now Gates and his foundation are pushing an entire set of public education reforms like charter schools and vouchers, high-stakes, standardized testing, and using tests for teacher evaluation. We are getting this set of reforms purely because he and his foundation have leveraged vast financial resources to influence and negotiate politics. They are doing this despite all countervailing evidence, and they are doing this with no democratic accountability.

 

And that is just the thing. While Gates and his foundation tinker around with charter schools, high-stakes testing, the Common Core, and the junk science of using tests to evaluate teachers, they avoid the central and most important issue that impacts educational achievement: poverty.

 

But Gates and the Gates Foundation aren’t hearing that. As far as I can see, they are not about actual educational equality and equity. Instead they seem to be about opening up public education to the marketplace.

 

In fact, Gates has said as much. Back in 2009 in the run up to the Common Core, Gates said the following:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.

 

I find this ironic. It seems to me that Gates wants to fix inequality in public education by relying on the same market forces responsible for the crisis in housing, the crisis in medical care, the climate crisis, the massive wealth gap, and the increase in the schools-to-prisons pipeline for youth of color, amongst other national travesties.

 

And all of this has me concerned because in many ways you and I and our children are unwillingly part of a grand experiment in education reform. Back in September of 2013, Gates himself said, “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” These folks pushing these reforms do not know if they will work, but they are willing to experiment on an entire generation of children.

 

And this raises another issue that we must contend with: institutionalized racism. We know that the system of public education does not serve low-income black and brown kids like it should. Unfortunately, here in Seattle we are a great example of this given the low achievement and disproportionate discipline rates for students of color. But the question we have to ask ourselves is this: “Have these corporate styled reforms like charter schools and high-stakes testing actually improved the conditions of education for the least served?”

 

On the whole the answer is “no.” Low-income students of color have had their curriculum gutted because of the tests. They are far more likely to experience scripted instruction and rote learning purely to prepare for the tests. They are far more likely to have art, recess, music, physical education, and even science and social studies cut in preparation for the tests.

 

And despite their never ending promises, the charter school sector has continued to find ways to keep out English Language Learners and students with disabilities, expel or counsel away low performing kids of color, maintain intense racial segregation, and NOT, I repeat, NOT out perform regular public schools in terms of overall achievement.

 

Given that both failure on high-stakes tests as well as expulsion and suspension from school greatly increase the chances of students to get caught up in the criminal justice system, I would argue that these reforms contribute directly to the racism of the schools-to-prisons pipeline.

 

In this way low-income black and brown students of color are the ultimate guinea pigs for the Gates experiment in public education reform, and I think it is ethically, morally, and politically reprehensible that wealthy elites feel so free to experiment on our kids.

 

This is especially true given that Gates’ own children have not had to face any of his own reforms. In fact, I want all of our children in public schools to have what Gates’ children have had.

 

Take Lakeside Schools, where his kids have attended. They had small class sizes, a large, well endowed library, top notch facilities, and a rich curriculum. These things seem to work for children of the elite. Don’t the rest of our children deserve them as well?

 

Lakeside students also don’t have to take 5, 6, 7, or 8 high-stakes, standardized tests a year. As my dear friend and education activist Jesse Hagopian says, we could say the boycott of high-stakes testing in Seattle really started at schools like Lakeside because the rich have rejected having their children take these tests for years: They just sent them to elite private schools.

 

I also want all of our kids to have some other things those Lakeside students have, like food security, a stable home to live in, jobs for their parents that pay livable wages, access to free or affordable healthcare…You know, all the basic human rights that the rich can afford and, increasingly, the poor cannot.

 

If Gates and the Gates Foundation really want to start increasing the achievement of low income and students of color, and if they are unwilling to have the real conversation about growing race and class inequality in this country, then I’ve got a suggestion: Fund a nationwide campaign for the implementation of Ethnic Studies. We’ve got research that shows that Ethnic Studies, like the program that was banned by conservatives in Tucson, Arizona, contributed greatly to positive educational outcomes and college attainment of students of color there. In that program students learned about their cultural histories and identities, and they learned about institutional racism in this country.

 

But I doubt we’ll see any Gates-funded campaign for Ethnic Studies because it doesn’t have the right kind of politics.

 

Speaking of politics, as the Seattle Times reported, Bill Gates recently said that, “These are not political things,” and that he’s merely supporting research about making education more effective. I’d like to close my speech tonight by pointing out how this statement rings hollow in so many ways.

 

For instance, we have ample research on the critical impact of smaller class sizes, the importance of culturally relevant practices, the fallacy of using test scores to evaluate teachers, the increased inequity produced by charter schools, the harmful effects of high-stakes, standardized testing, and the central role poverty plays in educational achievement. But Gates and his foundation don’t care to listen to any of this. They have their own agenda for public education, and they are wielding their mighty resources to advance this agenda with disregard of sound critiques or public deliberation.

 

Gates’ statement also rings hollow because these are all political things. Poverty is a political thing. Institutionalized racism is a political thing. High-stakes testing is a political thing. Charter school policy is a political thing. Private school vouchers is a political thing. All curriculum, especially the Common Core, is a political thing. Teachers’ rights to due process and protections provided by union contracts are political things.

 

When you attack public education and try to reshape it along the lines of private industry, and you do it with no democratic accountability to the public, THAT is a political thing. Every aspect of education policy is a political thing, and it is ignorant of Gates to think or say otherwise.

 

But that is why I am standing here tonight. That is why you are here as well. We all know better. We all know that public education is a political thing, and we all know that public education is a political thing worth fighting for. We can win this fight. Together we can remake our schools in ways that actually meet the social, cultural, and academic needs of ALL of our children. We can resist the privatizers like Gates. We can put the Public back into public education.

 

Thank you.

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We’re nearing the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, but don’t let the teaching of Asian Pacific Islander history and perspectives be limited to just one month. It’s good that we have official months and weeks during which we learn about and celebrate a diversity of cultures. But, of course, the world is always multicultural, and our curriculum should be too.

By sharing these articles, we’re posing a friendly challenge to take lessons about Asian Pacific history and culture (as well as Black history, Latino history, etc.) beyond the artificial boundaries created by the dates May 1 and May 30.

Enjoy these articles, available free to all friends of Rethinking Schools. 

You’re Asian, How Could You Fail at Math? by Wayne Au and Benji Chang.  Unmasking the myth of the model minority.

Taking a Chance With Words by Carol A. Tateishi. Why are the Asian-American kids silent in class?

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education by Wayne Au. This article is one of many critical pieces published in our new and expanded edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

The two articles below were originally published in Rethinking Schools magazine. They are now available from the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools. (Register for free access to these and hundreds more teaching articles and resources.):

A review of ANPO: Art X War by Moé Yonamine. A film tackles the U.S. occupation of Japan.

What the Tour Guide Didn’t Tell Me: Tourism, Colonialism, and Resistance in Hawai’i by Wayne Wah Kwai Au. Lessons on the history of Hawai’i and the impact of colonization and tourism.

 

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today at a 20% discount when you use code GRADE14 at check out. You’ll gain immediate access to these articles: 

Tiger Moms and the Model Minority Myth by Helen Gym
The media splash around Amy Chua’s writings about Chinese mothers exploits Asian stereotypes, exacerbates racial tensions and creates additional obstacles for vulnerable youth.

Haiku & Hiroshima by Wayne Au
A high school teacher uses an animated film and haiku poetry to raise awareness about the events of August 1945 and the dropping of the atomic bomb.

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans During WWII by Moé Yonamine.
A role play engages students in exploring a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps and back to Japan as POWs.

 

 

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by Wayne Au

wayneheadshotThis post is an excerpt from the introduction to our new and expanded 2nd edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice published just last week.   

Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice, second edition, has been a long time coming. Over its almost 30 years of existence, Rethinking Schools has published more than 200 articles that dealt explicitly with issues of race and culture. Even though Rethinking Schools has always kept racial and cultural justice amongst our main focal points, until the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education in 2009, we had never published a book that specifically focused on race and culture in education in their own right. This book does just that: provide a Rethinking Schools vision of anti-racist, social justice education that is both practical for teachers and sharp in analysis.

It is my hope that the selections included in the second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education: Teaching for Racial and Cultural Justice offer a more robust and powerful definition of multicultural education than we see so often used. For instance, some educators and teacher educators say they teach multicultural education, but do it under the guise of “global education.” This form of multiculturalism feels safer to some because it uses the veneer of international cultures to avoid more serious and painful realities of issues like racism. Similarly, “diversity education” and “cultural pluralism” get used with the singular intent of promoting heroes and holidays and celebrate individual differences, again circumventing issues of power and privilege.

RME2_cvrThe terms “diverse students” and “urban students,” two more stand-ins for “multicultural” students, have devolved into meaning “poor African American and Latino students” or “students who aren’t white.” This is particularly ironic given that in some school districts in the United States, schools might be approaching 100 percent African American or Latino students, as is the case in Detroit and Santa Ana, California, respectively, and are regularly referred to as “diverse” by professors, teachers, and politicians alike. The right wing has also developed its own, sometimes contradictory definitions of multicultural education. While some conservatives have vehemently attacked multicultural education as representative of the downfall of Western Civilization, others such as E. D. Hirsch (founder of the Core Knowledge curriculum) have developed a different definition of multicultural education. As Kristen Buras, professor of education at Emory University, talks about in her book, Rightist Multiculturalism, Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum has recently taken up the banner of multicultural education by defining the United States as a multicultural nation of diverse immigrants—while simultaneously covering up systematic oppression based on class, race, and nation status.

Multicultural education is also being narrowly defined as a path students can take to “higher” status literature. Teachers use Tupac’s lyrics to move students to Shakespeare; students can unpack hip-hop lyrics as a way to learn literary language like stanza and rhyme, but they need to study Frost and Yeats to be considered well read. Students in regular classes can read “thug” literature, but AP classes need to read the classics. (Does anyone read Morrison as a precursor to Chaucer? She’s harder than the Canterbury Tales). This version of multicultural education focuses on access to the canon of high-status knowledge. In doing so, such a definition not only keeps the Eurocentric canon of knowledge at the heart of “real” education, it also communicates to students the idea that the diversity of their identities, lives, and communities do not really matter when it comes to learning.

The second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education is an attempt to reclaim multicultural education as part of a larger, more serious struggle for social justice, a struggle that recognizes the need to fight against systematic racism, colonization, and cultural oppression that takes place through our schools. In the chapters included here, multicultural education:

  • is grounded in the lives of our students.
  • draws on the voices and perspectives of those “being studied.”
  • teaches through dialogue.
  • critically supports students’ identities.
  • embraces and recognizes the value of students’ home languages.
  • critiques school knowledge, knowledge that has historically been Eurocentric.
  • invites students to engage in real social and political issues.
  • creates classroom environments where students can meaningfully engage with each other.
  • is rigorous, and recognizes that academic rigor is impossible without it.
  • connects to the entire curriculum.
  • is rooted in an anti-racist struggle about which knowledge and experiences should be included in the curriculum.
  • celebrates social movements and the fight against nativism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
  • explores how social, economic, and cultural institutions contribute to inequality.

It is critical that I take a moment here to address an issue regarding how I am defining “multicultural” in this book. Some friends and allies, for instance, critiqued the first edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education for focusing too narrowly on typical categories of race, ethnicity, and culture, to the exclusion of more expansive definitions of “multiculturalism” that might include, for instance, an attention to the identities of LGBTQ youth in our classrooms and curriculum, or to the religious diversity of our students and communities. I understand and appreciate these concerns. The identities of our students and their communities are diverse and exceedingly complex, and certainly one approach is to define “multiculturalism” in ways to match every aspect of those identities—every aspect of “difference.” My answer in conversation with these friends and allies has been along two lines. First I attend to the context of Rethinking Schools itself. Two of our earlier, widely used books, Rethinking Our Classrooms Volumes 1 & 2, take up a broad definition of teaching for social justice, and in doing so, both volumes seek to embrace an expansive definition of culture, and also span grade levels and subject areas. Granted these two volumes are not perfect, but in many ways, my choice of focusing on more typically defined notions of race, culture, and ethnicity was a conscious one within the context of Rethinking Schools. We had already worked with the more expansive notion of culture in those two volumes, but had yet to take up a book that focused on race, racism, and the ways culture intertwines with them. The second part of my decision to define “multiculturalism” in the manner that I have for Rethinking Multicultural Education is connected to my experience teaching multicultural education and diversity courses at the university level. As I discussed earlier in this introduction, I worry that multiculturalism has been equated with “diversity” and has become the “everyone else” category. Teacher education credential coursework at many universities, for instance, require some sort of “diversity” class as a part of their core sequence of courses. Although I generally believe in the importance of requiring such courses and certainly do not want them taken out of teacher credential programs, the “every aspect of difference” nature of these classes oftentimes means that students—future teachers in this case—may talk about race, privilege, and myriad issues associated with diversity but give short shrift to the painful and powerful systemic racism, the legacies of colonization, and the realities of cultural oppression.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to more expansive definitions of multiculturalism and diversity, and I’m open to hearing the critiques of my friends, colleagues, and allies regarding the definition of multiculturalism I’ve chosen within the context of Rethinking Schools as a whole and the field of multicultural education as it currently exists. But this book represents the need to defend the conscious and explicit attention to race and ethnicity, and the aspects of culture that extend from them, as I have done here in this second edition of Rethinking Multicultural Education.

Read the rest of Wayne’s introduction >>

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Earlier this month, we set up shop at the annual meeting of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). It’s always a joy to see old friends and meet folks who are new but no less passionate about multicultural education.

If you follow our blog, you likely share this passion, and know that Rethinking Schools has offered insights and resources on critical, multicultural teaching since our inception in 1986.

carberry-1

Here are a few examples, free to all friends of Rethinking Schools:

Decolonizing the Classroom: Lessons in Multicultural Education,
by Wayne Au
Multicultural education has to be based on dialogue, both among students and between students and teachers.

“If There Is No Struggle…” Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement, by Bill Bigelow
Students “become” members of an abolitionist organization and grapple with the strategic dilemmas faced by one of the most significant U.S. social movements.

Multiculturalism: A Fight for Justice, by the editors of Rethinking Schools
The introduction to a special report on multicultural education.

Precious Knowledge: Teaching Solidarity with Tucsonby Devin Carberry
A high school history teacher centers a study of social movements on the fight over the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson. His students spread the knowledge.

These articles are free to read for our subscribers. Subscribe today to gain access! (All subscribers enjoy access to our online archives. If you have a subscription, but are not sure how to activate your online account, please call customer service at 1-800-660-4192.)

What Do You Mean When You Say Urban?: Speaking honestly about race and students, by Dyan Watson
“Urban” has become one of a series of euphemisms for African American and Latina/o students. What preconceptions hide behind the language?

The Other Internment: Teaching the Hidden Story of Japanese Latin Americans during WWII, by Moé Yonamine
A role play engages students in exploration of a little-known piece of history-the deportation of people of Japanese origin from Latin American countries to U.S. internment camps.

Diversity vs. White Privilege: An Interview with Christine Sleeterby Bob Peterson and Barbara Miner
Christine Sleeter explains why multiculturalism, at its core, is a struggle against racism, and must go beyond an appreciation of diversity.

Putting Out the Linguistic Welcome Mat, by Linda Christensen
Honoring students’ home languages builds an inclusive classroom.

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In every issue of our magazine, our editors and contributors hand-pick a variety of books, films, websites, and other media for all ages.

Here are seven resources we recommended in our fall issue.

The Speech_frontThe Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dream,
by Gary Younge
171 pp., $19.95

You may know Gary Younge from his fine columns on race and politics in The Nation magazine. Here Younge offers the riveting story behind one of the most famous speeches in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” address at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The book includes a chapter on “the moment”—an especially valuable look at both the national and international context of 1963; background on the march; an analysis of the speech itself; and commentary on the legacy of the march and speech. As Younge wrote recently: “Relatively few people know or recall that the Kennedy administration tried to get organizers to call [the March on Washington] off; that the FBI tried to dissuade people from coming; that racist senators tried to discredit the leaders; that twice as many Americans had an unfavorable view of the march as a favorable one.” This is important background for teachers, but also readable by many high school students.

resources-staysolidStay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth,
edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Centre
319 pp., $20

There may be school libraries that would deem this book too risqué or soft on drugs. But Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth is a remarkable assembly of testimonies, stories, advice, poetry, cartoons, lessons, short essays, and “other stuff to check out” from more than 100 radical activists divided into diverse subjects, including family, race, gender, school, friends, sex, disability, indigenous struggles, ecocide, and “your physical body.” Sprinkled throughout are rich, evocative quotes. This is not a G-rated book. The text does not adhere to a “Say no to drugs” admonition, and it is joyfully sex-friendly. As one young Teaching for Change intern wrote in recommending this book, “These views are incredibly important in supporting youth to be agents of their own decisions and, at the same time, are radically different from mainstream views.”

EdActivistAlliesEducating Activist Allies: Social Justice Pedagogy with the Suburban and Urban Elite,
by Katy M. Swalwell
161 pp., $41.95

Katy Swalwell opens this unique book with a quote from the late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire: “In the egoistic pursuit of having as a possessing class, [the oppressors] suffocate in their own possessions and no longer are; they merely have.” For Swalwell, a Rethinking Schools contributor, critical teaching for social justice benefits everyone—even the very privileged. As such, this work contributes to building a more just society for us all. In this accessible, story-rich volume, Swalwell offers example after example of how educators in different elite contexts attempt to teach for social justice—described in many instances through her own careful observations of their teaching. Interviews with students offer a window into how this teaching was received. This is a valuable book for any educator trying to clarify what it means to teach for social justice, but especially for those who find themselves teaching the children of the wealthy.

resources-gaslandGasland II, directed by Josh Fox
125 min.

High-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas—more commonly known as “fracking”—is one of the scariest technologies on the planet. A recent open letter from Pennsylvania residents described the effects of fracking: “In short, water contamination has been widespread; our air has been polluted; countless individuals and families have been sickened; farms have been devastated, cattle have died, and our pristine streams and rivers have turned up dead fish . . . and our communities have been transformed into toxic industrial zones with 24/7 noise, flares, thousands of trucks, and increased crime.” Josh Fox’s new film Gasland II illuminates this grim reality. With a blend of storytelling, outrage, science, and, yes, humor, Fox offers a student-friendly look at this technology from hell. The first Gasland film—which featured the now infamous images of residents lighting their kitchen tap water on fire—was nominated for an Academy Award. As Julie Treick O’Neill writes in her Summer 2012 Rethinking Schools article on teaching this earlier film, “Fox was a hit with my students: He was real enough, cool enough, and smart enough to take on fracking.” Gasland II is an important resource to help our students navigate the world’s disturbing new fossil fuel terrain. For middle school and high schools classrooms.

resources-asfastAs Fast As Words Could Fly, by Pamela M. Tuck,
Illustrated by Eric Velasquez
32 pp., $18.95

Based on her father’s experience in 1960s North Carolina, Pamela Tuck tells how a family and community challenge racism where they work, shop, and go to school. The protagonist, 14-year-old Mason, is the letter writer for the local African American civil rights committee. In appreciation, they give him a typewriter. His typing skills help him open doors when he attends the formerly all-white high school. There is no sugarcoating of the racism Mason faces. In fact, when he wins a county typing competition, not one audience member applauds. Instead, Mason finds love, admiration, and strength from his family and community. This picture book could be used to introduce the history beyond the big demonstrations about the fight for civil rights. It would lend itself well to a group read and discussion, and could also be a wonderful source of prompts for writing from the perspective of different characters. For grade 3 and above.

resources-democracynow

Democracy Now! Hosts Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez
(free podcasts)

We previously included Democracy Now! in the Rethinking Schools resources section. But, as we begin a new school year, we thought that it was worth reminding people that, in our judgment, this is the best Monday-through-Friday news broadcast in the United States. The news headlines that open each hour are a rundown of vital stories often ignored or distorted in the mainstream media. Headlines are followed by several in-depth reports, many of which make ideal classroom viewing: striking fast-food workers, conflict in Egypt, NSA revelations, stop-and-frisk policing, the true history of the 1963 March on Washington, drone strikes, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the climate crisis, and more. One recent episode that could and should be used in class is Cornel West’s critical commentary on President Obama’s talk on race relations following the acquittal of George Zimmerman. Each broadcast is available as simple audio or as audio/video. All are archived and available for free at the website.

resources-ifieverIf I Ever Get Out of Here, by Eric Gansworth
373 pp., $17.99

Eric Gansworth’s first young adult coming-of-age novel hits a home run. The main character, Lewis “Shoe” Blake, navigates relationships with family and friends on and off the upstate New York Tuscarora Reservation in the mid-1970s. Debbie Reese, editor of the website American Indians in Children’s Literature, alerted us to the novel. She explains that it offers “a rare but honest look at culture and how people with vastly different upbringings and identities can clash. And dance. And laugh. Gansworth informs readers about cultural difference, but he doesn’t beat anyone up as he does it.” Young adult author Cynthia Leitich Smith calls it “a heart-healing, mocs-on-the-ground story of music, family, and friendship.”

v28.1This collection of resources from our fall 2013 magazine was reviewed by Rethinking Schools curriculum editor Bill Bigelow and Teaching for Change Executive Director Deborah Menkart. Bill and Deborah are also co-directors of the Zinn Education Project, a collaboration between the two organizations..

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Curtis Acosta

If you have seen the remarkable film Precious Knowledge, about the Mexican American Studies (MAS) program in Tucson, you’ll remember Curtis Acosta, the caring and charismatic high school language arts teacher. Despite its well-documented accomplishments and success in reaching historically marginalized students, Arizona politicians set out to destroy Tucson’s MAS program—through House Bill 2281, which singled out this program, and then through a decree from Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, which ruled Tucson’s program out of compliance with state law.

Rethinking Columbus banned

Rethinking Schools was drawn into the controversy when Tucson Unified School District banned and confiscated our book, Rethinking Columbus, which was one of seven core texts used in the MAS program. We published several blog posts and articles (here and here) on the struggle in Tucson, including two by Curtis Acosta.

Here we publish an open letter from Acosta, announcing his departure from Tucson High Magnet School and describing his new plans to continue his career as a mentor to young people and defender of public education.

By the way, Curtis Acosta will be leading workshops at this summer’s Free Minds, Free People conference in Chicago, and will keynote the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice conference this Oct. 19 in Seattle, co-sponsored by Rethinking Schools.

  – Bill Bigelow
Curriculum Editor

Dear supporters, colleagues, and friends,

Last Thursday my career at Tucson High Magnet School came to an end. It was never supposed to be this way. I always believed that I would leave with a fully gray head of hair and thicker lens than those currently in my black frames. I imagined that there would be a legacy of former students who would take my place and would take our levels of success even further. Instead, I took down each poster and photo from my room with a deep sense of loss and the words of Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” in my mind. It was as if I was participating in self-ethnic cleansing. (A wonderful side note to this story is that Bob Diaz, a librarian at the University of Arizona, has decided to create an archive of our classroom so that it can live on forever. Have I mentioned lately how much I love librarians?)

However, the reality is that the room and the power of the space were lost far before the pictures came off the walls. This moment was fated as soon as Tucson Unified School District eliminated our highly successful Mexican American Studies program, banning my colleagues and me from our own curriculum and pedagogy, as well as boxing up books. Yet, I would like to thank my students, compañer@s, parents, and the local and national voices that supported us through these difficult years in building up my resiliency and resolve to stand up and never to submit to acts of educational malpractice.

Thus, I am happy to inform you all that a brighter day lies ahead. Yesterday, I held a local press conference announcing that through a partnership with Prescott College, Mexican American Studies lives on through Chican@ Literature, Art & Social Studies (CLASS) where high school youth will receive free college credit. This is a class that was born from the injustices performed upon our students in Tucson and my indignation toward political opportunists using our students, literature, and history to create a wedge issue founded in hate for their own selfish means.

CLASS had a successful first year as a collection of 10 amazing youth, who sacrificed their Sunday afternoons throughout the entire year to rigorously study, analyze, and read the world together. It was a thirst of justice and knowledge that fueled them and they will soon be sharing their voice with the world at Free Minds, Free People in Chicago—a national education conference centered upon education for liberation and youth empowerment. However, our youth need financial help to attend, and although I am using the stipend from Prescott College to pay for part of the trip, it is still not enough. We would be humbled by any and all support and you can follow us now on Facebook and donate here.

Along with CLASS expanding and continuing next fall, I am happy to announce that I have founded the Acosta Latino Learning Partnership, an educational consulting firm that will continue the work that we started in Tucson throughout the nation. It is my vision to help teachers, schools, and educational organizations empower youth to find their own voice and academic identity through culturally responsive and engaging academic experiences.

I look forward to this next chapter of my career as I continue to be an advocate for public schools. After all, we know public education works. We’ve seen it be successful time and again, and as teachers we are honored to be the guides and mentors of beautiful young people who will forge a better nation and world. By following the inspirational leadership of the powerful teachers, students, and parents in Seattle and Chicago, this devious trajectory to destroy public education will end. One day soon we will stop the obsession of measuring our children and teachers with corporate driven instruments aimed at eliminating all of the creative joy from public education. And this is why our work here in Tucson must continue, we must never comply with unjust laws and policies that dehumanize and degrade our children.

Let all the reformers be warned that we are aware of why you want to discredit our profession and the heights that we reach with our students every year. We are more than a budding marketplace or real estate to redevelop, and we will not rest until our children are treated with more love and respect than the banks and corporations of this country. Trust teachers to work with their students, parents, and communities as true partners; support us with resources that our children deserve, and then watch the magic of learning take root and grow.

I want to thank you all for your support through the years and truly believe that great victories lie ahead for communities of color, our students and public schools throughout our nation.

In Lak Ech (Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me),

Curtis Acosta
Chican@ Literature Teacher
Tucson, AZ

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Bill headshotby  Bill Bigelow

Portland, Oregon language arts teacher, Michelle Kenney, has written a provocative article for Rethinking Schools about some of her curricular choices—and how what seem like great ideas one moment, turn out to embed troubling race and gender biases. I don’t want to give anything away, because there are interesting twists and surprises in her article. But it doesn’t spoil her story to mention that in one encounter included in the article, a parent insists that Kenney teach Lord of the Flies, a book that Kenney detests because of its pessimism about human nature.

It’s a novel I read as a high school sophomore. I found it engrossing, and spent long hours gripped by the conflicts of the boys on the island. But I remember being troubled by the book, and by its conclusion that invited the reader to breathe a sigh of relief as the British Navy arrived to restore order and civilization. Its message: How easy it would be to fall into barbarism, without …. well, without the guns and uniforms and commanding presence of empire.

It seems that Lord of the Flies lingers as a distasteful memory for a lot of us. In her “Outside In” column in the March/April 2013 issue of Orion magazine, on “The Politics of Play,” Jay Griffiths lays into Lord of the Flies, and argues that, not only is it an offensive book, utterly inappropriate for school, but is also flat wrong in its premises.

Lord of the Flies opens with misadventure,” Griffiths writes, “as the children are stranded on the island. An odiously racist text, it describes the group of boys who become the cruel killers as a ‘tribe’ of ‘savages,’ hunting, dancing, chanting, and ‘garlanded,’ with their long hair tied back: ‘a pack of painted Indians.’”

It’s a testament to the pervasiveness of racist stereotypes in today’s society that this novel wasn’t yanked long ago from high school book rooms. It expresses contempt for indigenous cultures, and embraces a cultural hierarchy, with Western empire on top. Lord of the Flies’ portrayal of humanity’s innate savagery justifies the subordination and loss of “lesser” cultures. It’s an especially troubling message these days as global warming-induced rising oceans force indigenous island people—like those on Kiribati, the Carteret Islands, and Tuvalu—to flee their homes.

Griffiths concludes her column with what she calls “a real-life Lord of the Flies incident”—one that offers the exact opposite message from that of the book. Here’s the story Griffiths tells:

One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip. They left safe harbor, and fate befell them. Badly. Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe?

They made a pact never to quarrel, because they could see that arguing could lead to mutually assured destruction. They promised each other that wherever they went on the island, they would go in twos, in case they got lost or had an accident. They agreed to have a rotation of being on guard, night and day, to watch out for anything that might harm them or anything that might help. And they kept their promises—for a day that became a week, a month, a year. After 15 months, two boys, on watch as they had agreed, saw a speck of a boat on the horizon. The boys were found and rescued, all of them, grace intact and promises held.

These days, the last thing we need is a book like Lord of the Flies that offers a cynical portrait of our inner savage—a savage in need of a system of allegiance pledges and bosses and orders and tests and marching in line; all rooted in the fear of “consequences.”

Yes, we know that people can be violent and greedy. But through and through, we’re better off when the school curriculum is built on the presumption that human beings are capable of cooperation, kindness, intelligence, and solidarity. We ought to choose our literature with that in mind, and we ought to organize school life in a way that nurtures those human qualities.

Related Resources

RethinkingColumbuscvr Rethinking Columbus. Over 80 essays, poems, historical vignettes, and lesson plans re-evaluate the legacy of Columbus. Packed with useful teaching ideas for kindergarten through college.
unlearningindianstereotypes Unlearning Indian Stereotypes (DVD). Narrated by Native American children, the DVD teaches about racial stereotypes and provides an introduction to Native American history through the eyes of children.
ChristensenBooks In Teaching for Joy and Justice, Linda Christensen demonstrates how she draws on students’ lives to teach poetry, essays, narratives and critical literacy skills. Reading Writing, and Rising Up is a practical, inspirational book that offers essays, lesson plans, handouts, and a remarkable collection of student writing, all rooted in an unwavering focus on language arts teaching for justice.

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